Q: I have had a really hard time dealing with my three- year-old son's father. We have been apart for about a year. Although he's very impatient and gets frustrated easily we have been trying to share our son's time without a formal custody order. My son's father and I agreed we would not cut his hair. When we are in a hurry, I usually just wrap it up into a bun. Yesterday his father couldn't manage it, so he got angry and took him to a barber who cut his hair in a classic boy's haircut. When his father dropped him off, our son burst into tears. Aside from being furious that my ex took this into his own hands without discussing it with me, evidently, he did not explain things adequately to our little boy, either, and he thought he was in trouble. In my child's best interest, I think he needs a break from his dad. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: My first suggestion is to always talk to the other parent before you do anything, but if dad's fuse is as short as you describe, I can only suspect talking may fall on deaf ears. I still suggest you try. Your child needs both of his parents.
In terms of legalities, if you had a court ordered custody agreement you would have to return the child to his father on his designated day until the agreement could be adjusted in court. There are different ways to do that, from filing Temporary Custody orders to calling Child Protective Services. Some would say, "Call Child Protective Services? For a haircut?" Three-year-old children can be easily traumatized. If you just wrap up his hair in a bun and dad cuts off the hair, there's a huge difference in approach and that difference can make the child feel frightened and insecure -- but that difference in approach is what needs to be addressed. Is all this enough for an agency to intervene? Probably not, but it may make dad sit up and listen. His actions could very well have traumatized this child and it could be time to take a serious look at his approach to parenting.
That said, if there is no formal custody agreement, then there is no parenting plan for the authorities to follow. But, remember, if you start playing the "I'm not going to return the child game, so can he." That's when the child becomes a pawn and a good reason to have a custody agreement in place. If parents agree to deviate from the court order, they always can.
Finally, this sort of thing happens more times than I would like to admit. I've seen it go as far as a judge rule that the mother is responsible for the daughter's personal grooming and the father is responsible for the son's personal grooming. Don't let the courts raise your children. Working against each other only hurts your children. Show Dad this column and look for ways to co-parent together. Don't be afraid to reach out to a co-parenting counselor for help. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)
(c)2019 Jann Blackstone
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